Hijacked in years past by rehabilitating major league stars, free-agent rumors and veterans on tryouts, this year's edition of the Orioles' January minicamp seems to be more focused on its core purpose: getting a look at the young, up-and-coming arms in the organization.
Beginning Monday at the team's complex in Sarasota, Fla., the three-day minicamp will be an opportunity for some of the more promising pitchers in the minor leagues to work individually with the major league coaches, who unlike in spring training will give their undivided attention to the prospects.
Past rosters have included pitchers Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brad Brach, Oliver Drake, Tyler Wilson and Mychal Givens, all before they made their mark in the majors.
This year's roster includes some familiar names, like former first-round draft picks Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey.
But after the success story that was Givens in 2015 — he burst onto the radar at minicamp, where the coaches adjusted his delivery, propelling him to the major league bullpen — executive vice president Dan Duquette is hoping the attention heaped on the young pitchers produces similar success in 2016.
"If we could come up with a pitcher this year on our major league staff like Givens last year, that would be quite a thing," he said.
There's more to the session than just working with the arms of tomorrow. Here are five major storylines that will play out as the Orioles' January minicamp begins Monday.
1. Where are Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, health-wise?
The two marquee names on the minicamp roster are also two of the biggest question marks for the Orioles entering the 2016 season. Bundy, the Orioles' selection in a loaded first round of the 2011 draft, is out of minor league options this year. If he's healthy, he'll have to remain on the major league roster or risk being exposed to waivers, something the Orioles would hate to have happen.
Bundy had Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 2013, returned for the end of 2014 and was on an innings limit in 2015 in order to ease back and be saved for a possible major league spot late in the season. But a shoulder problem shut him down in June, and he was limited in the Arizona Fall League because of a stiff elbow.
Harvey, the Orioles' 2013 first-round pick, was getting buzz as one of the top prospects in all of baseball and one of the steals of his draft year after his full-season debut at Low-A Delmarva in 2014. He struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings with a 3.18 ERA in 17 starts (87 2/3 innings) before a flexor mass strain ended his season in July of that year.
He fractured his fibula last spring training, felt elbow discomfort in May and didn't throw again until instructional league in September, when the discomfort cropped back up.
How they feel during the throwing sessions this week, if they take part, will go a long way toward crafting the plans for how they'll be used through spring training.
2. What does Buck Showalter think about the state of the roster?
Outside of tornado updates, there hasn't been much word from the Orioles manager, especially on the state of his ballclub. The major moves — the trade for first baseman Mark Trumbo and the re-signing of reliever Darren O'Day — occurred before the holidays. Now that there's movement in an outfield market that the Orioles figure to be involved in, it's worth wondering whether things are progressing at a pace Showalter is comfortable with.
Indications are the team still wants to add starting pitching as well. The Orioles have made some of their best moves late in free agency — like the one-year contract with outfielder Nelson Cruz in 2014. But it's worth wondering whether the manager's patience is being tested by this offseason, which seems to still have many questions unanswered.
3. When will the Orioles' next big move occur?
Only some of the coaches and decision-makers will be in Sarasota at the minicamp, while the rest will be back in Baltimore continuing to build the roster for 2016. Duquette said the split staff won't hamper the Orioles' ability to make moves next week, when it will be nearly one month until pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota for spring training.
This month already saw outfielders Alex Gordon (Kansas City Royals) and Denard Span (San Francisco Giants) come off the market, as well as pitcher Scott Kazmir (Los Angeles Dodgers). With some teams getting restless, and others waiting for a single domino to fall before making their move, when will the Orioles make theirs?
4. Which major league players will pay the youngsters a visit?
If there seemed to be more buzz entering past minicamps, it's because there was a big league flavor to them. The last two minicamps saw the year's first updates on third baseman Manny Machado's surgically repaired knees.
There's no such intrigue this year. Machado was healthy all year and was the only major league player to play all 162 games. But there are typically a few other major leaguers who stop by, including pitchers Chris Tillman and Tommy Hunter last year. Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez could be potential visitors this week after both recently moved to the area near the Sarasota complex.
After losing a clubhouse presence in outfielder Nick Markakis last winter, any veteran could probably speak to how important it was to bring O'Day back, and talk about what it's like waiting out first baseman Chris Davis' negotiations. Many of the team's stars were at FanFest last month, but a lot can change in a month.
5. Who is the next Mychal Givens?
At last year's minicamp, Givens made a delivery adjustment he rode to a stellar year at Double-A Bowie, and finished the year with a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings over 22 major league appearances.
Givens was a special case, having converted from shortstop to pitcher in 2013, but this event could spawn another pop-up candidate to help the Orioles bullpen going forward.
Some who could be on the "fast track" include Cuban left-hander Ariel Miranda, who has a diverse pitch mix, even if none stand out; left-handers Donnie Hart and Ashur Tolliver, who are both matchup nightmares because of their pitch mixes and arm slots; and right-hander Joe Gunkel, who worked as a starter at Double-A this past season but could be an option in relief.